Healthy Choices with Health Coach Liza Baker: On the road again? Staying healthy while traveling

As the Covid-19 pandemic grinds on into 20+ months (delta? lambda? mu?), data show that Americans are traveling more again after trips plummeted in March 2020.

In September 2021, The Guardian reported, “in view of passenger data from the US and the UK, air travel is on its way toward recovering from the slump of a pre-vaccine Covid-19 pandemic—despite the rise of the Delta variant.”

We’re moving into the holiday season, when many of us used to travel—something that many of us denied ourselves in 2020. When I headed back East this summer, I hadn’t seen my parents since Christmas of 2019.

Business travel is also slowly returning although many who used to travel regularly have recognized the advantages to virtual meetings and are traveling for business less frequently.

As a health coach, the primary principle I apply to my clients is that of bio-individuality: we’re all unicorns, there’s nobody else exactly like us in the Universe. Your food might be my poison, my kale might be your Kryptonite.

So it follows that we all need to make our own decisions based on our own intuition of what is right for us right now—and, equally important, we all need to be open to the idea that what is right for us might change in the future.

The decision to travel in these times of plague and chaos is a highly personal one, and if you do decide to head over the river and through the woods, there are some actions you can take to stay healthy—and keep those around you safe as well.

Personal hygiene

After 20+ months of the pandemic, I think we have to admit that Mom was right all along—most of the CDC recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus are still what Mom taught us:

  • Wash your hands—a lot—with soap and hot water.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes—with your elbow, NOT your hands—and with a mask.
  • Distance yourself socially from others when possible—which means don’t travel if you’re sick.
  • Clean everything—and BTW, there seems to be some indication that we don’t need to disinfect everything: again, soap and hot water are usually enough.

And I’m sure Mom would add:

  • Eat your vegetables (especially the dark green leafies).
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Don’t pick your nose.
  • For the love of all that’s holy, don’t put that in your mouth!

Some of your mothers would insist on getting you vaccinated; others would not—that discussion is not a place I’m going to go right now.

Travel as a stressor

Have you ever noticed that it’s not unusual to get sick while you’re on the road or just back from a trip?

Here’s something to consider: travel is a form of stress on your body—physical, mental, emotional, and energetic.

And any type of stress affects our immune system negatively: believe it or not, to your body under stress, immunity is a non-essential function—like digestion, fertility and growing beautiful hair, skin, and nails.

Your body wants you to get out from under the stress you’re under NOW; its concern is your survival in the short term, not in the long term.

So here are some suggestions on how to support your immune system and your resilience before, during, and after you head out—all from the perspective of Integrative Nutrition®, another principle of which is that of primary and secondary foods.

The food we put in our mouths is secondary to everything else in our lives that nourishes us—or doesn’t, what we call primary foods. Think: relationships, career, home environment, spiritual practice, physical activity, time in nature, sleep…. The list is endless.

Secondary food

When you travel, it’s fine to celebrate and take advantage of local specialties—and it needn’t become an endless feast (cruise ship buffets, I’m looking at you).

Stick to my principles of healthy eating, which are:

  • Eat when you’re physically hungry, not when you’re using food to quell an emotion, fill a void, or to bring some order to the chaos.
  • Focus on whole foods…
  • Cooked from scratch,
  • Eaten in moderate portions,
  • With mindfulness + gratitude

Remember the part about digestion slowing down or stopping under stress? You may have noticed that long plane and car trips plug you up—so here are a few suggestions to alleviate that issue:

  • Moderate your alcohol intake, especially on planes—your body will thank you. And even when you’re back on the ground, consider really savoring one drink rather than making vacation an excuse to drink more than usual.
  • Hydrate like crazy—even on planes. Yes, you’ll have to get up to pee, and your fellow passengers and the crew won’t thank you—and your body will be much happier precisely because sitting still for hours is not good for you.
  • Bump up the fiber—not the Metamucil type, but the kind naturally found in whole foods, especially vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

You may discover that, while traveling, having foods you normally restrict don’t affect you the same way as they do at home.

  • If you’re on vacation, not stressed from work, getting more sleep, and being more active, you may discover that you don’t put on extra weight even if you have more desserts than usual.
  • If you travel outside the US, you may discover foods that normally cause you gastric distress (gluten, dairy, ) don’t do so abroad because of the differences in food quality and how food is grown and processed abroad. (Obviously, if you have celiac disease or are allergic to casein, don’t try this!)

Primary food


  • Try to slightly increase your activity level from where you are now—walk whenever possible! You’ll see even more of your surroundings and not be tempted to overdo by rushing from one place to the next.
  • Give yourself a break from your usual routine by replacing it with something you don’t normally do rather than skipping it entirely
  • Or take advantage of opportunities to stick with your routine using the resources you have available to you, whether it’s swimming pools, gyms, or a yoga mat and a video in your room.


  • Take advantage of the local customs—in many parts of the world, that include a siesta!
  • Go to bed early/sleep in whenever you can—nothing wears down the immune system like burning the candle at both ends and the middle.
  • Try to finish your last meal 3 hours before going to bed.


  • Allot certain time for work, then let it go. No, really, it. go.
  • Stay on top of emails (selectively) if that helps—or have an autoresponder that clearly states your policy: “I’ll respond after x date” or “I’m not responding to email during this time. Please resend your email after y date.”

Mental hygiene

Mental stress has the same effect as physical: our bodies have exactly the same response to mental/emotional stress as they do to physical overexertion, so support your mind before, during, and after travel as well.

You can get some suggestions from my mental hygiene infographic or search up “stress relief” online—this field has exploded in the past decade.

Remember the concept of bio-individuality: look for something that helps you to relax—it may not be yoga or meditation or breathwork. It can be knitting or reading or walking in nature.

Coming home

After all this talk of how travel is a stress on your body, mind, and spirit, consider this: being outside our usual environment can be beneficial—it could be a form of eustress (the good kinds of stress).

Did you break any “bad” habits you’ve been trying to get rid of while you were traveling? Many people discover that when they’re taken out of their normal day-to-day routine, it’s easier to avoid the poorer choices we can make.

If that’s you, think about what was different on your trip and try to recreate that environment once you’re home.

Did you discover a good habit on your trip? What can you put in place at home that you relied on while traveling?

A final question

As you consider whether or not to travel this fall and winter, give a minute’s thought to the ethics of travel during the pandemic:

  • How is your trip likely to affect your immediate family, your extended family, your community, and the larger world, especially those with less privilege?
  • Are you required to travel for business?
  • Is your trip essential or non-essential?

Again, this is a bio-individual decision: only you know the answers to these questions.

WLAA health columnist Liza Baker is a health coach and employee wellness consultant, cookbook author, blogger, podcaster, and COO of a busy family of four spread across the country—and the globe. Liza lives in an empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice.